Non-Verbal Learning Disorder

Nonverbal learning disorder involves difficulty understanding nonverbal cues. Students with this condition tend to have higher verbal and receptive language abilities, but problems with social, motor and visual-spatial skills. As a result, the student has difficulty recognizing and understanding body language, tone of voice, facial expressions and other forms of nonverbal communication.

Non Verbal

It is often difficult to diagnose nonverbal learning disorder, because it is accompanied by stronger verbal and receptive language abilities. The disorder is usually diagnosed during middle school, when learning shifts toward increasingly frequent and complex written expression, reading comprehension and the use of graphs, charts, geometry, and maps.

  • Difficulty recognizing and understanding facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and other nonverbal cues.
  • Challenges with tasks that require fine motor skills such as drawing, writing and even buttoning a shirt.
  • Poor psycho-motor coordination, leading to bumping into people and perceived “clumsiness.”
  • Challenges generalizing information after it’s learned, and following multi-step procedures.
  • Trouble adjusting to routing changes and transitions.
  • Experience of an "illusion of competence" because the child has higher, well-functioning verbal learning skills.
  • Difficulties with figurative or idiomatic language.
  • Repetition of activities, for example asking too many questions, which may sometimes disrupt classes.

As with other learning challenges, nonverbal learning disability has no “cure” but can be well-managed, with coordinated help from parents, family, friends, teachers, colleagues, and others.

Some ways to help a child with nonverbal learning disability include:

  • Encouraging more verbal communication
  • Breaking down, and explaining in detail, abstract concepts, metaphors, idioms, and nuances
  • Minimizing the number of transitions and changes in routine
  • Understanding that generalization of ideas or instructions—understanding that a specific idea can apply more generally as well--cannot be assumed
  • Explicitly answering questions, when possible
  • Limiting the number of activities when the student feels overloaded
  • Encouraging creative programming
  • Providing verbal explanations when an individual is confused
  • Preparing students in advance with verbal communication before any changes are implemented
  • Ensuring that the individual has mastered the foundations of math, reading, and writing—skills that sometimes may not be automatic